Science

Elizabeth Warren is Not Native American

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Transcript:

On July 5th of this year, Donald Trump announced that he would pay a million dollars to the charity of Elizabeth Warren’s choice if she took a DNA test that showed she is “Indian.” So she did, and she posted the results online for everyone to see — according to the genetic testing, she does indeed have an ancestor who was Native American. When confronted, Donald Trump says he never said he’d give any money to charity.

Of course! Of course Donald Trump is incredibly racist, and of course when he’s proven wrong he just lies straight into a camera and expects his fans to believe him. The whole thing is disgusting and wrong.

But it’s also pretty disgusting and wrong on Elizabeth Warren’s end. This entire to-do began because she listed herself as being Cherokee in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of Law Teachers, and so Harvard counted her as a “woman of color.” Let’s be really clear: Elizabeth Warren is in no way Cherokee (or Delaware, her other claimed heritage). This was typical white nonsense that is exceedingly common, in which the whitest of white people tell themselves stories about a great great great grandparent who was 1/16 Native American, and they embrace it because it makes them seem cooler and more interesting, because nothing is less cool or interesting than being super fucking white, like Elizabeth Warren.

But being Native American isn’t about who your great great great grandfather may have boned. (And by the way, in the notes I’m linking to Indigenous voices here, because honestly they’re way more important and more knowledgeable than mine, so go check them out.) It’s not about genetics, or even about whispered tales told by your father and your grandmother and your great aunt. It’s about actually being a part of that culture — about being on the rolls, about actually having Cherokee citizenship. If you get a DNA test that proves you’re directly related to a person who is a Cherokee citizen, okay, that’s worthwhile. Now we’re talking. But that’s not what this DNA test was at all.

This DNA test was about looking for genetic markers — after all, genetic testing facilities don’t actually look at your entire genome and then read it like a book. They look for markers, and if you are descended from a Native America, you may have some of those markers that they can look for. However, you might not — DNA is tricky, and race is tricky, and tribes are tricky — you could have none of the markers but still be a 100% “full-blooded” Cherokee.

Also, various tribes are so close together, genetically speaking, that there’s simply no way a test like that could determine whether you’re Cherokee or Cree or Iroquois. Hell, you could be South American and still have some of those markers.

So in a way, Warren got lucky here. First she got lucky in that Trump is a moron and has no idea what it means to be Cherokee, so when he wanted to talk about “proof” he talked about the only thing he could think of, which is “taking a test,” in this case a genetic test. Then she got lucky in that she actually did have a marker commonly found in Native American people’s DNA.

Because of that, Warren is able to claim some kind of high ground over Trump, but that’s kind of like being the world’s fastest sloth — it’s damning with faint praise. The true high ground would have been admitting at the very beginning that she was wrong to list her background as Cherokee when she absolutely was not, and then not posting things like this on Twitter:

“My family (including Fox News-watchers) sat together and talked about what they think of @realDonaldTrump’s attacks on our heritage.”

Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump did not attack your family’s heritage. He attacked the heritage of actual Native Americans who are erased every day while stupid white women like you appropriate their identities.

To make that Tweet even worse, she followed that up with “And yes, a famous geneticist analyzed my DNA and concluded that it contains Native American ancestry.” “Famous geneticists” don’t establish identity, and they don’t even validate genetic results. Good research is done by good, hardworking researchers, not celebrities. I seriously cringed.

To Warren’s defense, the charity she’s asked Trump to donate to (which he won’t) is the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and she did eventually get around to saying that “DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only – only – by Tribal Nations. I respect the distinction, & don’t list myself as Native in the Senate.” That’s too little, too late, in my opinion. It’s always nice to see Trump get owned, but in this case Warren was wrestling with pigs — something you just don’t do because you both end up muddy, and the pig likes it.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you. I took one look at how the more toxic Dems *cough*Daily Kos*cough* were handling this, and yeah, unsurprisingly, everyone but Meteor Blades was attacking Meteor Blades and using a commercial genealogy site as if it was an official statement from the Cherokee.

    To be fair, Trump could very well be the first Indian POTUS. Of course, more for the nepotism than anything. Reneging on every deal he’s ever made is there too.

    (And now I’m stealing from Trevor Noah’s “Trump is the first African POTUS” joke, but it’s better than what I had written out which plagiarized Lenny Bruce instead.)

  2. She didn’t actually claim to be Cherokee in the Law directory, she just checked the box that said “Native American”. It listed “Cherokee” after her entry in her cousin’s cookbook, but that is most likely the cousins doing, not Warren’s.

    My last name is derives from German, my family came from Germany and as such I was simply mad for all things German when I was in middle school. I have told people a thousand times that my family comes from Germany. But on the other hand, my family left Germany 10 generations ago. The whole concept of genealogy is virtually meaningless past the first “Great-” stage, if it ever meant anything at all.

    The whole issue is simply a proxy for honesty, and Warren believed the things she said when she said them. How much more honest can you get than that.

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